As we conclude our sermon series today based on the Movie and book, War Room, we are viewing a final scene between Elizabeth and Tony Tony has made some serious mistakes which cost him his job but also nearly cost him his marriage. Yet all this time, his wife Elizabeth was holding him in prayer. Take a look: [play movie]
Throughout this sermon series we have seen Miss Clara describe her war room – her prayer closet. It is her place to commune with God, write out her petitions to God, read and focus on scriptures that highlight the power of prayer, and build strategies to fight the real enemy – the evil that seeks to take away all that is good. Elizabeth has been a good student and is following God’s leading as she develops her prayer life even in the midst of her seemingly disastrous marriage. Through this process, Elizabeth has learned to put God first. She has learned to hold her family in prayer, even when it felt like they did not deserve her support. She found a renewed joy when she set aside her anger and bitterness toward her husband, and rebuked the true enemy of her house. She found strength when she finally put God first in her life. She found clarity and purpose when she pursued her war strategy in prayer.
What will it take for us to be convinced in the power of prayer? How closely have we ever looked at ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ which is the scripture lesson read for us? We say it practically every Sunday, and even though the version we are familiar with is written in an older English style, we can usually recite it without looking at the hymnal or the bulletin. But do we really know what the different phrases mean or the significance of those words? Let’s take a look.
First, Jesus tells his disciples, ‘when you pray….’ It seems as if prayer is not an option but an expectation. We are to pray – it’s our bread and butter as Christians. It simply becomes a part of who we are. So our first challenge is to remember to pray and pray often.
When we pray, we first establish to whom we are talking. We usually start with ‘our Father, hallowed be Thy name.’ What exactly does ‘hallowed’ mean? Some synonyms are sacred, holy, sanctified, blessed. We are basically establishing that we are approaching the throne of God in prayer – God as our Creator and we as the creation.
Then Jesus tells us to say, ‘thy kingdom come.’ In Matthew’s version it adds ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ In other words, it seems we are to look toward our heavenly reward and begin to see God’s blessings here on earth. How often do we possibly miss blessings that are right in front of us because we are caught up in asking God for material things, or things that will better our own lives and not necessarily help anyone else? Maybe at times we want God to be our genie in the bottle – all we need to do is ask for something and our genie (who works for us) will get it for us. Do we ever pray for our world – for God to take away some of the causes of pain that plague so many?
“Thy kingdom come” – what would it look like to have a little bit of heaven on earth? “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We have a great work to do – we have a reason for our very being as children of God called to share God’s love in every way we can. God’s love for us is so powerful and incredible we cannot help but share it with others. We do works of kindness as a result of our love for God and our willingness to serve God in all we say and do.
If you have ever been around a new parent or grandparent I guarantee you that in no time you will be inundated with photos of their newest little blessing – you can measure the time with a stopwatch! And why not? A new life is truly a source of joy! God’s love is like that! It is a source of endless joy that literally bubbles over to anyone around us. Even in times of trial somehow we can find an inner peace that helps us maintain hope that all things really will work together for good. I believe part of this hope is the promise of the kingdom of God – not just a future hope of the splendor of heaven but also the earthly hope in knowing God is walking with us. The kingdom of God is like a hidden treasure on earth as it is in heaven.
It isn’t until after we have acknowledged and praised God and sought God’s intervention for the betterment of others that we get to the part of the Lord’s Prayer that most people jump to right away – ‘give us this day our daily bread, and forgive our sins.’ Jesus seems to be establishing a distinct pattern for us to follow when we pray – not if we pray but when. We are told how to pray – praise God, pray for our world and others, and ask God to work in our hearts and lives by meeting our physical needs but also by drawing us into a closer relationship with God.
In addition, Jesus acknowledges our relationship with others. Our familiar version of The Lord’s Prayer says ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ Somewhere along the line we started using the word ‘trespasses’ instead of ‘debts.’ Another mystery of the cosmos! I remember being a part of an ecumenical celebration for Good Friday called a Cross Walk. People from all churches walked through town carrying a cross and stopping at the steps of the various churches to reflect on the passages that make up the Lord’s Prayer. When we got to this part about trespasses, the pastor queried the crowd. “How many of you say debts? How many of you – its trespasses?” He then said, “OK, how many of you are sinners?” That got a bit of a laugh because we all recognized ourselves as sinners, falling short of God’s glory. I think the idea holds true – we ask God to forgive us as we in turn forgive others. We are involved in so many others’ lives – we are connected as a family of God and we are charged to help one another through our trials in life. We encourage one another and we ask and receive forgiveness from one another as God has forgiven us.
Have you ever said something and instantly wished you could pull the words back into your mouth? I have. We are human and as such we come as an imperfect package. At times we cross the line and our mouths run away from us. So we need to ask forgiveness and in fact we do this every week. When we greet each other ‘in the spirit of Christian love,’ forgiveness is a part of that time. If we have wronged someone we extend a hand and ask forgiveness. When our brother or sister in Christ returns the gesture we know we are forgiven.
The beginning of our scripture passage talks about how we should pray. It seems to be the entire premise of our sermon series – Miss Clara’s War Room. We are told to not be showy with our prayers, but to find a quiet, out-of-the-way place to commune with God. Huh? Sounds impossible doesn’t it? We barely have time to function much less seek out a quiet place to talk to God! It all comes down to priorities. Perhaps we say the same thing about relaxation, yet without rest and quiet time, we are spinning further and further out of control. Our health suffers. Our families suffer. The more we try to be Superman or Wonder Woman, the more we lose focus on what matters most. Time with God is essential for our spiritual being – without it, we are truly out-of-balance and heading more toward existing in this life rather that living it.
God is concerned with our relationship with God and others. God is constantly calling us back to be God’s people, free from sin. As we proceed through the Lord’s Prayer, that seems to be established. Our goal of prayer is to call out to God in order to be drawn closer to God. What needs to change is in us – we need to continue on our faith journey toward aligning ourselves to God’s will for our lives. Those of you who have ever driven a car that was out of alignment know just how fast your tires can get chewed to bits the longer you put off fixing the problem. The longer we are out-of-sync with our Creator the more difficult our path may be. What we petition to God are ways to become better Christians – the change is in us.
Does that mean we should not ask God for any help with our physical needs? No, I think we should ask God to help us in times of need. I think God cares about us on many levels. Often we may feel God is ignoring us or not answering our prayers and so we either pray harder or turn away. But when we persevere in prayer, perhaps we are being transformed by the process. Perhaps we are getting better at seeing God’s blessings and listening for God’s direction in our lives. Perhaps we can get a glimpse of the real enemy that is out to steal everything including our joy.
The battle continues to rage around us. The battles of stress, worry, time restraints, fear, addictions, temptations. How will you arm yourself against the continuous attacks that can at times appear to be hitting us from all sides? Do we let our anger and hurt take over, or do we fight the enemy with prayer? Jesus has already defeated evil at the cross. Perhaps it is time for us to claim that victory for ourselves. Commune with God. Take charge of your home and family with the word of God. Claim God’s love for you as you give thanks to God and claim victory in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.